News

    Seven Years After Katrina, New Orleans Still Struggles to Rebuild

    Destroyed buildings and overgrown weeds are seen from Flood St. looking toward Caffin St. in New Orleans, August 25, 2011.
    Destroyed buildings and overgrown weeds are seen from Flood St. looking toward Caffin St. in New Orleans, August 25, 2011.
    Tala Hadavi

    On August 29, 2005, over a 12-hour period, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf coast of the United States with winds up up to 233 kilometers per hour [145mph] - killing more than 1,700 people and displacing hundreds of thousands. Seven years later, residents of the area still are struggling to rebuild. And while the effects of the storm remain evident, there also are some striking improvements.  

    In the aftermath of Katrina, the city of New Orleans was in ruins. One hundred twenty of the city’s 200,000 homes were destroyed. Eighty percent of the city was flooded.

    “It wasn’t the hurricane that destroyed the city. It was the collapse of its levees,” said John Bigounet, who writes books and plays about the hurricane and its aftermath. He blames the disaster on problems with the flood-protection system.

    “You could see the flood line. And it was clear that the water hadn’t come over the top of the levees. Instead that they had collapsed from the bottom. The reason that they collapsed from the bottom was that not enough steel was used," said Bigounet.

    Fourteen billion dollars has now been spent to re-build the flood-protection system. Billions of dollars more have been spent on re-developing other parts of the city. But photographer Frank Relle, who has been documenting the city's recovery, said the results so far have been mixed.

    “You have a new library that’s being built right here. But at the same time you have individuals that are struggling to rebuild. This house was knocked off its foundation by Katrina. Still got photographs on the floor. This is someone’s birth certificate,” said Relle.

    Right after the disaster, many young professionals moved to New Orleans to help rebuild. Many decided to stay, including urban developer Milo Deamgan.    

    “This is an interesting time to be in New Orleans. A lot of different urban work is going on, a lot of different policy work is going on, and you have kind of passed that point of recovery. They call it resiliency now. And doing a lot more long-term strategic planning,” said Deamgan.

    Bigounet said New Orleans now has less poverty than before, but that’s because many poor people simply could not afford to return.

    “The city is a bit richer, a bit younger and a bit whiter than it was before the flood. The city is in flux right now. And because of that many people carry the scars of what they’ve been through in the last six years,” said Deamgan.

    Relle said that's now the story of the city.

    “As a documentary photographer, it’s sometimes strange that you need a disaster to have a voice heard," he said. "But really for me the reason why I wanted to do the work that I wanted to do, was to talk about difficult things, but also to give people hope and awareness.”

    “I think like everyone who is writing about this, or photographing it, or painting it or writing songs about it, its changed who we are," said Bigounet. "We certainly have, I certainly have a different understanding of loss than I did before. I think the other thing that happened to us is that there’s a greater sense of compassion in those who survived.”

    Hurricane Katrina changed New Orleans forever. It erased large parts of the city and those that have been rebuilt still have a long way to go. But a new city is starting to emerge.

    “This was a place where my wife and I thought we could make the most difference in the world,” said Ben Jordan, a recent resident.

    It's a city whose new and returning residents have a similar vision for its future.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Lee Sung Chul
    April 05, 2012 12:11 PM
    No matter how dark or hopeless the circumstances of your life may become, there is always hope to be found in God.

    by: Paul Harris
    April 04, 2012 5:06 AM
    I'm glad you conveyed that it was the levee failures that led to most of the death and destruction in the city of New Orleans. They couldn't withstand a Cat.3 storm which points directly at an "unnatural" disaster vs. the natural disaster it was for the Mississippi Gulf Coats.

    Paul Harris
    Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora